I’ve done over 3100 miles on my Peloton. As a public relations guy, 99.9% of my life is spent staring at a computer monitor, and thus being able to get out of my chair and onto the bike to burn for 45 minutes is very, very attractive to me. The product is endlessly sticky – continually interesting classes, achievements, competition (with yourself, I’ll get to competing with others) and so many metrics to improve. I love it, the EZPR staff loves it, and the only people who don’t seem to love it as much as we do are the people handling the PR.
Okay, I take that back. They may love it, but I’m getting the distinct feeling I did back when I’d deal with video games PR people – a great deal of talking, and not a lot of actual use or deep knowledge of the product. Now, an argument might be made that Peloton is quiet because of their IPO, but the truth is that their PR and marketing is lacking – it’s vaguely focused, and the most in-depth non-Wirecutter review of the bike I can find is over two years old. The Verge’s Peloton Tread review, again, is one of the few indepth pieces on what is now a multi-billion dollar fitness empire outside of enthusiast publications like Runner’s World and “TreadmillReviews” which I’m sure is a very trustworthy and not affiliate-driven outlet. The smattering of technology publications would be incredibly impressive if this wasn’t the leading fitness brand out there.
I want to dig into why I think they’re messing it up – and how to right this ship.
They tell their own story poorly
A TechCrunch story about the “13 reasons why Peloton is a cult” made me groan a lot, if only because Josh Constine has actually used Peloton a decent amount – over 100 classes, albeit most of them are 15 minutes, come on dude.
The problem here is that Josh attributes reasons that Peloton is a great and successful product to things that aren’t necessarily what makes it so good. Skipping a few of his choices (the shoes, the clips, I just can’t man, I’m sorry, I gotta move on with my life), there are a few extremely weird choices that are absolutely in line with Peloton’s brand effort:
The Pavlovian Response – Your brain quickly begins to associate the sounds of Peloton with the glowing feeling of finishing a workout: The rip of the Velcro shoe straps, the click of clipping into the bike, but most of all the instructor catch-phrases. You get hooked on hearing the bubbling British accent of “I’mmmm Leeaannne Haaaaainsby” as she introduces herself, Ben Alldis’ infectious “You got 5, you got 4…” countdowns or Emma Lovewell reminding you to “Live, learn, love well.” That final “namaste” followed by wiping down the bike and jumping in a cold shower forms a ritual you’re inclined to repeat.
My man, first off, where exactly did they say namaste on a ride? Maybe once? What catchphrases are we talking about here? “You’ve got 5, you’ve got 4,” is called counting, it ain’t a catchphrase!
Also, if I was Peloton I’d be pissed off that Josh somehow missed actual catchphrases like “this isn’t daycare” from Alex Touissant or Matt Wilpers saying “fast legs” or Robin talking about hustlers, which is very funny if you think about hearing someone saying it unironically while riding a $2000 bike.
Or how about the fact that Josh says the network effect is every friend that signs up makes you want to stay, versus the way that Peloton probably wants to keep people – the amount of hours you’ve put in on the bike.
This isn’t (just) bagging on Josh, who makes a good point about how it helps you feel less alone while working from home. The point is that the actual 13 reasons that Peloton is sticky …aren’t really clearly defined, and mostly come down to “you’re stuck there, and sometimes your friends are on it.” Why isn’t there a Peloton person who says hey man, wanna talk to an instructor? Who in the world is TELLING THIS STORY?
How can someone who’s put so much time into using your product define it as vaguely as how everyone at Twitter describes Twitter?
The Peloton “cult” isn’t real, and catering to it sucks
Google Peloton cult. If you’re doing Peloton’s PR, see that and think “this is great,” I disagree and think it’s very stupid to keep feeding this even more stupid fire. The “Peloton cult” idea is that everyone’s part of a tribe, meaning a group, so you can all ride at the same time and then argue on Facebook later for whatever reason. The actual social features of Peloton are so absolutely terrible – the video chat sucks, there’s no real functionality with regards to having friends beyond being able to look at their profiles (there’s not even an ongoing feed beyond “they did this this day”) – so what the “tribes” are is Peloton outsourcing their own social networking.
But, more importantly, the idea of the “cult” is extremely off-putting for…most people. The reason that people don’t like spin classes is the idea that you’re trapped in a room of judgmental, fit and sweaty assholes, and turning fitness into a spiritual goal ostracizes those who want to just have fun. Creating a culture is different to referring to your users as obsessed, stupid and easily-influenced cultists – and fueling a cult’s existence is to say that those who are not part of it don’t “get” the experience. It’s exclusionary, boring and embarrassing.
They fail to cater to people who aren’t fitness people
Despite the fact that most people I know who have really gotten into Peloton weren’t particular into fitness before, Peloton seems to cater to two groups:
- People who are already fit
- People who like the appearance of fitness
The latter is a specific issue (not including those who cheat on the leaderboards) because it’s what gets people to make the very boring “Bowflex but it’s a bike” joke. I’m fine with people using the bike however they want to as long as it doesn’t affect me, and you can absolutely do 500 classes but 95% of those are 5 minute warmups, fine, whatever, enjoy your life.
What Peloton is failing to do is actually pitch this as a product that anyone can use to lose weight. Cycling is one of those rare ways to exercise that can help people who are fat, thin, muscly or skinny. It’s great for that, and yet it’s painfully apparent that the only instructor Peloton pitches with any effort is Robin Arzon, their “VP of fitness programming,” who is a ripped, enthusiastic instructor who genuinely gives a great workout but…embodies everything that anyone overweight is scared of. Loud. Present. Demanding. Exhausting.
Peloton does not seem to make much effort to pitch the bike (I’m leaving the tread out of this) as something that can genuinely transform you. The cult of personality in instruction makes sense, but Peloton happens to have people like triathlete Matt Wilpers, who handles most of the personalized power zone content on the bike. He’s relaxed, encouraging, pushes you to give more but doesn’t literally call you a baby (“this ain’t daycare”) or tell you you’re not a hustler because you didn’t hit an interval.
Sidenote: if you’re gonna read that as me complaining that I’m being pushed too hard, in my first year of cycling from zero fitness I did two 100 mile days, and my latest 45 minute PR was off an Alex Touissant class. Email me at email@example.com if you’d like to discuss further.
This may not mean much if you’re someone who doesn’t get discouraged about your physical appearance, or your physical ability, but right at the beginning I’m glad I took classes with Denis Morton and Matt Wilpers – guys who I do not see particularly well-marketed by Peloton.
And I think it’s because some part of their PR strategy is marketing to people who think they’re capable of fitness, versus marketing to people that yes, they are capable of fitness. The closest Peloton gets is saying that there are 10 minute and 20 minute classes – which isn’t really helpful if you are overweight and/or unfit, and think that you’re not going to be able to do anything because you’re “weak.”
They continue a cycle of judgment on appearance and acceptance
The Rah Rah persona of Peloton is digging strength out of people, but the way they tell the story is very much focused on those who just need a little push versus those who need to be educated that, yes, the big multi-billion dollar fitness company has something that can make them fit.
Put aside the obvious classist vibes of saying that the $2000 bike is the only way to get fit – a problem unto itself – and consider that the current marketing and PR efforts of Peloton are almost exclusively aimed at exclusivity for those who look good enough to get photographed on it.
The campaign should be actively going after reporters, after customers, after anyone who has said “ah, you know, I don’t think I could even do one class.” Get them to do two. Tell them the right stories – that most people start off very small, that the gains are fast and furious and the success comes in a variety of ways. Convince people that they too are capable of being healthy, through their own industry, through following instructors that care about their success but also through their execution of a plan that doesn’t require an hour at the gym.
Sell Peloton as a way of escaping the vulnerability of working out at the gym – where everyone can see you, where everyone seems stronger and better. Sell it as a way of working on yourself, by yourself, proving to yourself that you can do it, and yes, you are stronger than you think, without having to worry about someone walking over and bothering you.
If they can do that, they’ll maybe have a chance of being the Apple of fitness.